The Cult of the Game: Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! vs. Elite Beat Agents
March 15, 2009, 10:34 pm
Filed under: The Cult of the Game

For all the Nintendo DS’s worth few games really take advantage of it. Oh sure you can say that a lot of interface improvements have been made but take a title like Phoenix Wright, certainly enhanced by the stylus, and yet in all honesty doesn’t really NEED it explicitly. Noble efforts all around for DS game designers and I do think it’s one of the best systems of all time but I really wish some companies would try to flex the systems touch screen muscle. We’ve had some great shining examples like The World Ends With You, Metroid Prime Hunters and all but we need MORE of that, they definitely seem to be in the minority than the majority.

Rhythm games would seem perfect for the DS. With the touch pad interface you should be able to come up with some nifty mechanics that work well in the genre. The hard part at this point then it to make the game compelling, make it too simple and you might as well be playing Flash Flash Revolution, too convoluted and you’ll end up with a diluted messs like Guitar Hero on Tour. The sort of rhythm game that would work on the DS needs to have the balance of elements, simple design in terms of gameplay but be compelling to be worth the price of admission.

It took Japanese developer iNiS, then known for the great yet brutally difficult Gitaroo Man games, to bring such a game to the Nintendo DS. Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! Released by Nintendo for the DS in the summer of 2005, was as simple a concept for a DS rhythm game as you can get. During the course of the game small numbered circles would appear on the touch screen, as their “beat” came up (indicated by another circle slowly shrinking to the size of the numbered circle) you would need to tap them at the correct time in the correct order. To break up the monotony sliders and spinners get involved. Your object to is to not miss as many beats to prevent a ever draining life bar at the top of the screen from depleting. Perfect beats add more health while missed beats will cause you to lose health. A little hard to explain with words but the below video should more than explain it.

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The Cult of the Game: Sin and Punishment
March 8, 2009, 10:22 pm
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Importing seems to be dead these days. With the global nature video games have become few gems of games are rarely released exclusively to a single region. While importers in the past would clamor for games like Parodius, Snatcher and fighting games based on the Dragon Ball Z and Ranma licenses nowadays games that may seem too “Japanesecentric” or based off major anime titles get released here with some level of regularity. Much of this is to the Kudos of publishers like Atlus who see the massive cult followings these games have and reward the loyal fanbase by releasing titles like Odin Sphere, Diagaea and Persona for the masses. Even if titles aren’t released on this side of the ocean thanks to the internet it’s easy to e-mail imported games and with most systems having loose legion locking measures it’s often fairly painless to get these games running on your system.

This wasn’t the case during the 90’s, where the video game import scene was starting to build steam. Many people had to find specialty retailers in their area, most of them Asian run shops that would get games for their customers who had brought over systems from Asian territories. Failing that most would have to go through mail order services from the backs of video game magazines. From here many import superstars came to be and one of the biggest import only games for a long time and one of those last superstars was Sin and Punishment for the Nintendo 64.

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The Cult of the Game: Startropics
March 2, 2009, 12:14 am
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It may seem odd but this month is the Cult of Nintendo month. I say odd because in all honesty few companies are as consistent at releasing top selling AAA titles as the big N. From old classics like Zelda, Mario and Metroid, to new franchsies like Pokemon, Animal Crossing and Nintendogs it always seems Nintendo is able to touch anything and turn it into franchise gold destined to sell millions along its many consoles.

However Nintendo is a company about good gameplay first, and as the Cult of the Game shows being good doesn’t always mean you’ll be popular. Odd settings, difficult (at first) game mechanics and lack of availability have caused a number of Nintendo’s first party titles to slip under the Big N’s and consumer’s radar and have created wonderful cult games.

The creation of Startropic was an odd birth. Directed by Genyo Takeda who had originally worked on Punch Out!! Startropics was developed in Japan but never released there. The game was an answer to the growing North American and European markets. While games were becoming hugely popular in both regions many US publishers at he time had a large amount of xenophobia to games from Japan which sometimes were steeped in Japanese ideals and pop culture they felt would turn off gamers. Startropics was an early attempt to design a game with western audiences in mind only and was released only in North America and Europe.

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The Cult of the Game: Street Fighter III
February 23, 2009, 1:14 am
Filed under: The Cult of the Game

If you grew up as a teenager during the early 90’s you know just how big a deal Street Fighter II was. It revolutionized a new genre of gaming; single handily revived the arcade market and helped elevate the SNES as the top 16 bit system. The original Street Fighter II: The World Warrior sold six million copies on the SNES. It is estimated that the gross profits from Street Fighter II coin op machines out paced the box office sales of Jurassic Park.

From Street Fighter II came Street Fighter II: Championship Edition, introducing the four boss characters and the “player vs. player” ability. Street Fighter 2: Turbo would up the speed and give characters new moves and palettes. This continued, Capcom releasing incremental updates on its existing cash cow creating ire among the fanbase. The common joke in game magazine was, does Capcom even know how to count to three?
By 1994 Capcom had released five iterations of its Street Fighter II franchise and while Super Turbo is arguably the best in the series many gamers simply didn’t care at this point.

Ever after Super Turbo Capcom would continue to tinker around with the fighting game format. The Alpha series, which takes place between Street Fighter and Street Fighter II, shows off anime style graphics with combo oriented gameplay. The Street Fighter EX series had Capcom force the series kicking and screaming into the 3D world with less than stellar results. Having had huge success with both X Men: Children of the Atom and Marvel Super Heroes Capcom crossed Marvel with their own Street Fighter characters in X Men vs. Street Fighter

It seemed odd for Capcom to take so long to get to Street Fighter III. By 1997 though it the years of waiting have finally come into fruition as then dubbed Three: A New Generation was unleashed to arcades around the world. Street Fighter III was originally given much buzz but for some reason failed to catch on as well as its predecessor did.

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The Cult of the Game: Planescape Torment
February 15, 2009, 11:38 pm
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When Baldur’s Gate hit the PC gaming market it was both a renaissance and a revival. During this time the PC gaming market was in a boom period, as online gaming started to become more feasible thanks to free servers, high speed internet and heavy adoption of the TCP/IP protocol. Thanks to 3D accelerator cards PC games, already usually having a leg up on their console cousins, now looked vastly superior.

Despite this boom though it was odd at how stagnant the PC game market was. While there were definitely exceptions the majrority of PC game releases belong to either the Real Time Strategy or First Person Shooter genres. It made a lot of sense for these two formats to thrive on the PC at the time (and still do today.) For both the Mouse and Keyboard control scheme is optimal for them. They’re great games to play online thanks to their “pick up and play”ability, they were also, relatively new genres with a lot of creativity to be mined from. While the PC was constantly being bombarded by FPS’s gamers at the time didn’t care, because usually for better or for worse, it was 8 different takes on the genre.

However this stagnant problem with limited genres started to show it fatigue by the late 90’s, where another group of a new dominat genres began to take over the PC market and carve their niche. Oddly enough these all stemmed from the classic PC staple from the 80’s, the RPG. Blizzard fired the first salvo in 1997 with the addictive action RPG Diablo. In 1999 Sony would create the prototype for all MMORPGs with Everquest (Ultima Online may have came first, but few MMORPGS model their design after it. In 1998 then unknown Bioware went truly back to the roots, to D&D stat based classing top down RPG-ing in Baldur’s Gate.

Baldur’s Gate was your classic PC rpg slicked up with the brand new Infinity Engine to give it a great isometric view. At its heart action occurred in semi real time action, large parties and a back bone of D&D mechanics games like Ultima and Wizardy had cribbed for years. Despite its deep stat system Baldur’s Gate had enough action and a great story to make it a bonafide hit and pushed Bioware into the stratosphere are one of the premiere developers in the gaming industry.

Obviously when a game becomes a massive success as Baldur’s gate was you’d have to expect more me-too efoorts. Baldur’s gate spawned two direct semi spin offs as they too were based on existing worlds in Dungeons and Dragons. The later spinoff was Icewind Dale a very action oriented take on the RPG but one that didn’t fly off the shelves was Planescape: Torment from Black Isle Studios.

Based in the strange oddity of the D&D world of Planescape, Planescape: Torment is a massive sprawling RPG that stars the Nameless One, a man who is forced to live eternal life for the sins he had done. However whenever the Nameless One dies he is resurrected into a new form that has lost all memory of past transgressions, as such the Nameless One is in a constant loop of regret that as he progresses through the game tires to figure out how to end it.
Planescape: Torment is notable for being vastly different from Baldur’s Gate inspite of similar design and game engines. Whearas Baldur’s Gate is your classic journey to save the world Planescape: Torment is ultimately a more personal journey. The game is designed to explore the notions of torment and regret and has less of an emphasis on combat and a greater emphasis on story telling. Truth be told there are really only 4 sequences of combat one must complete in order to finish the game.

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The Cult of the Game: Another World
February 9, 2009, 7:41 pm
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Modern day gaming owes a lot to the simple polygon, the geometric shaped used to put over 3d mesh wiring that allow objects to exist in 3D. It seems odd how far we’ve come to believe that a living breathing character like Marcus Phoenix for all his detail is nothing more than triangles with a fine coat of paint over them. 3D Gaming has done a lot for the industry though, allowing for more complex games to exist and assisting developers to push the boundaries beyond 2D limitations.

This is not a slight on 2D gaming at all because really todays game is a “2D” game. However the idea of modeling graphics in 3D has lead to some large innovations. Imagine if we’re still forced to make FPS’s like Doom (which, oddly, are actually 2D games made to look 3D.) We’d lose a lot of the design elements, such as simple rooms over rooms, physics, and lighting effects etc. that make 3D shooters so great. Translate that to the new Street Fighter IV, a very 2D game but is enhanced by its cinematic 3D presentation and we greatly see the benefits 3D graphics have offered us.

However what were the early efforts into the 3D like, not just for games mind you but for graphic design in general. Like a lot of things mostly crude, maybe not fully realizing the potential of what those things can achieve. However, they also tend to be visionary, victims of limitations that are not the creators fault. Through the history of 3D graphics we’ve often seen examples such as Dire Straits video for “Money for Nothing” or Pixar’s early efforts like Tin Toy to see there was never a lack of imagination.

There are numerous early efforts that are worth mentioning. Nintendo and it’s Super FX chip got the ball rolling with the incredible on rails shooter. Sega would counter with the Virtua series of games most notably at first Virtua Racing. On the PC front we can go even earlier with games like Elite and Starglider 2. However one of the most successful uses of polygons wasn’t even in a 3D game at all, or at least a traditional 3D game as we think of them today.

Delphine Software’s Another World (released in North America as Out of this World) is a visionary piece of gaming in many aspects. Graphically the game is an early feat of art meeting design. The game uses polygons to build its alien world. Back then complex texturing was not feasible as it is today. Characters and back grounds were made with polygons that were flatly shaded. While this hampered many of the early 3D efforts by making the environments seem a little drab and life less Another World used this to its advantage. The stark muted colour palette but incredible angular detail gave life to the alien world Lester Knight explores.

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The Cult of the Game: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
February 2, 2009, 12:59 am
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I admit, I thought the Nintendo DS was going to fail when it was first announced. Forgoing power for a touch screen “gimmick” screamed failure to me, especially put side by side with the PSP and its amazing graphical prowess and technical superiority in everyway imaginable. It’s now a little over four years since both launched and while the PSP is only know settling into its groove the Nintendo DS has dominated the hand held market.

While a lot of the DS’s library is admittedly fluff ware shoveled out to try and tap into the large user base a lot of it is quite innovative and makes great use of the controls. Games like Wario Ware, Trauma Center and Metroid have all done their part to show that the touch screen on the DS is more than a gimmick but a great way to design new game concept around.

However one thing I was really hoping for when the DS was released was the return of an old genre long since killed by 3D accelerator cards and online gaming. The classic point and click adventure game, long since deemed “unfeasible” on consoles due to the use of controllers as the main interface device, could work great with the DS’s touch screen and stylus.

Sadly this point-and-click renaissance hasn’t come and seems unlikely to with people wanting more Nintendogs than Maniac Mansions. It’s not like great efforts haven’t been made which include games such as Hotel Dusk and Trace Memory but when one things of point-and-click adventures the modern cult classic Phoenix Wright quickly comes to mind.

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